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Warning Shots Revisited

NCJ Number
Law and Order Volume: 46 Issue: 4 Dated: April 1998 Pages: 96-99
D E Mulroy; J Santiago
Date Published
4 pages
This article examines the danger, value, and legality of the police use of warning shots to gain compliance from a suspect.
Many police departments have had a policy against warning shots for years. Such a policy is due to the concern that a warning shot may be misplaced and result in unintended injury or death to a suspect or bystander. On the other hand, there is evidence that a safely placed warning shot can shock a suspect into compliant behavior that precludes shooting the suspect. Thus, warning shots may prevent injury or death rather than cause it. In reviewing dozens of cases in which officers or civilians fired a warning shot, the authors found the shots were effective in the vast majority of cases, and no further shots were fired. Case after case showed that criminals ceased to flee and surrendered, even though they had committed serious crimes. In the cases where warning shots were fired, the arrests remained valid; and the courts were not concerned about the use of warning shots. Research shows that warning shots have resulted in little legal litigation. If an officer's option is to fire a safely placed warning shot or shoot to kill or incapacitate a suspect, the option of the warning shot is less likely to lead to a civil action against the department. Perhaps it is time to look at the possible use of warning shots in certain cases in which it would be an alternative to injury or death.